Posted in News on February 21, 2017
On the surface, Here They Lie is about a disheveled man chasing after a lost love draped in a yellow dress. If you dig a little deeper, it’s about humanity’s unsightly tendencies and the nature of life, death, and what may follow. And if you shovel all the way through the dirt and pop out the other side, it’s a game that reflects who you are and what you believe in.
Since launch, reading the myriad interpretations of our debut project, Here They Lie, has been both fascinating and energizing. Like a dream itself, the surreal, esoteric nature of Here They Lie draws a medley of readings from those who see it through, and thankfully, there’s no one “correct” answer. Speaking with creative director Cory Davis, art director Rich Smith, and general manager John Garcia-Shelton, it’s easy to see that balancing the explicit with the obtuse was far from a simple task. But the group worked in tandem to create something that becomes more potent the longer you stare at it.
“Here They Lie is a dark dreamscape, so I wanted that quality of dreams to be present throughout,” Smith says of the game’s look and tone. “Making places and characters that resonate with the player the way a dream does requires the use of symbolic imagery, which is the language of dreams. So symbolism was more of a tool to achieve a mood than a goal in and of itself.”
If it were up to Cory, there would be as few signposts pointing you toward a deeper meaning as possible. He revels in abstraction, and that’s why opening with such a standard relationship between Buddy and Dana was key to what follows.
“For us, it was about people leaving their first interpretation of the story and going to their second. Because with the first interpretation of the story, we intentionally set up for you to believe it’s a simple, physical relationship between these two characters,” Davis details. “We set it up to attract you to something accessible—a relationship you, your neighbor, or your friend might have. If you stick with that, by the end you’ll be like, ‘What the fuck?’”
That “Wait, what am I even seeing right now?” reaction is something Cory gleefully plays with.
“We as developers see that reaction, twist it, and by the time you’re halfway, we’ve really twisted it hard,” Davis continues. “What we’re trying to do is invite you to go down the rabbit hole, and reinterpret everything you thought about these characters as you start discovering new things about both them and yourself.”
However, a sea of scattered clues, hidden puzzle pieces, and easy-to-miss environmental cues shouldn’t litter the world and obfuscate the message. Creating something meant to confuse the player can lead to more frustration than curiosity, so the environments were constructed to leave breadcrumbs you’re both eager and willing to follow to the source.
“Testing the player to see if they’re paying attention isn’t that interesting,” Smith admits. “Better to have an idea for the themes of the game, and allow that idea to empower the world you build—not as a puzzle with clues, but because having the world be influenced by something that is obscured is a great way of infusing weight and symbolic resonance into that world.”
It took time, experimentation, and constant tuning to land on the final version of Here They Lie’s narrative arc, but playtesting also informed how different scenarios were presented. Some people were willing to leave their expectations and first analysis at the door during an initial playthrough, while others took a more literal approach to what they saw.
John studied all the different reactions during playtesting to continue to find that balance in the messaging. By seeing which cues landed and which went over people’s heads, he could help reshape the sequences and tip the scale in one direction or the other.
“We had lots of interpretations about what the story was about. Some people got elements of what was being said but would lock onto another idea and see everything they experienced through that specific prism,” Garcia-Shelton observes. “We had to make careful adjustments to the dialogue and events to deepen the meaning beyond the first impression. It was important that we made sure people could connect enough of the themes into a deeper story they believed, but not make it so overt that it was the same for everyone.”
Here They Lie is a reflection of what humanity is and what it fears it might become. It’s a cracked, distorted mirror revealing different images to different people. What’s taken away from Buddy’s time ambling through the monochromatic streets, surreal subway station, and seedy red light district is different from person to person. But the more you challenge what’s in front of you, the more the deeper meanings of Here They Lie come into focus.
Here They Lie is now available for the PlayStation 4 Pro, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation VR.